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YMCA’s Local Leadership Says It Will Work to Enhance Presence in City’s Urban Communities

Carol Elizabeth Owens

Dr. Daniele Lyman-Torres
(Photo courtesy of YMCA)

On December 2, 2021, the Greater Rochester YMCA released a set of objectives and goals to enhance its services to the urban communities within the city of Rochester.

The Y’s seven new objectives and goals were developed by a task force commissioned by the Y in March of 2021 after the organization closed its Carlson MetroCenter branch in downtown Rochester.

Wade Norwood (chief executive officer of Common Ground Health), Robert J. Duffy (president and chief executive officer of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce) and New York State Senator Jeremy Cooney (NY-56th Dist.) served as members of the Y’s Mission-Critical City Services Task Force members. Other task force members included George Romell (Y’s president and chief executive officer), Jen Cathy (chief impact officer, United Way of Greater Rochester), Paul Clark (Center for Youth’s director of school-based programs),Corinda Crossdale (Monroe County’s deputy county executive for health and human services), Dr. Michael Rotondo (URMC’s senior vice president and UR School of Medicine’s vice dean for clinical affairs), and Dr. Daniele Lyman-Torres (City of Rochester’s commissioner of the Department of Recreation and Human Services).

Following is a summary of the Y’s seven new objectives and goals (and related timelines) for Rochester’s urban communities based in information obtained from the Y:

⦁ Unified urban services [2022]: The Y plans to commit to investing resources to align staff and volunteers as a whole instead of location-by-location to avoid duplication of service and maximize impact.
⦁ Partnerships in health and wellbeing [on-going]: The Y plans to engage partners and collaborators to strengthen its services delivery system and address social determinants of health for city residents.
⦁ Financial stability [18-36 months]: The Y plans change its funding matrix through its endowment, grants, private philanthropy/foundations, government support and with suburban branches/overnight camp success (when COVID recovery occurs) to invest in and deliver its urban mission.
⦁ Existing locations and community outreach [on-going]: The Y plans to enhance/develop inclusive programming responsive to the community’s needs delivered within its existing locations – Maplewood Family Branch, Center for Equity at Lewis Street and Southwest Family Branch – as well as outreach locations through collaborative partnerships.
⦁ Center City Wellness Location [12-18 months]: The Y plans to explore a modified downtown wellness facility in partnership with a developer at a centralized location with a focus on adult/senior wellness.
⦁ Former Carlson MetroCenter branch [6-12 months]: The Y plans to seek a committed partner(s) to share the Carlson MetroCenter for positive community impact. The Y’s role will be to deliver larger scale youth development and teen services using the unique space the now-closed facility offers. This goal fully depends upon the Y successfully identifying a committed partner(s).
⦁ New, full-service facility [4-6 years]: The YMCA plans to determine the feasibility of a second, full-facility YMCA within the city limits to create a ‘neighborhood hub model’.

These objectives were presented to and approved by the Greater Rochester Y’s board of directors in November, 2021.

“This was an incredible process that gave us the opportunity to engage with community leaders like we haven’t in many years,” said Romell. “It allowed us to focus on the needs of our community and learn where the YMCA can be most impactful. This is a watershed moment for the YMCA of Greater Rochester. We are ready to fulfill our mission in new ways in support of all.”

New York State Senator Jeremy Cooney has direct, personal knowledge of the positive benefits of having Y locations in urban communities. “As someone who grew up in the city, learned to swim at an urban Y pool, and attended Y summer camps, I know firsthand the impact that YMCA programming has on city youth and families,” said Cooney. “I believe the implementation of these recommendations will improve services and provide support to underserved populations in residential neighborhoods.”

Wade Norwood
Chief Executive Officer — Common Ground Health
(Photo courtesy of CGH)

Common Ground Health is a local non-profit organization that focuses on remedying race-based health care / health outcome disparities and was represented on the Y’s task force by Norwood. “Serving on the task force aligns completely with Common Ground’s mission to bring greater focus to community health issues,” Norwood said. “We all have a vested interest in ensuring the continuation of services for those who are most in need, particularly seniors and children. I look forward to continuing to work alongside my friends and colleagues on the task force to eliminate health disparities in our communities.”

Duffy, a long-time leader in the Rochester community, said, “I was honored to participate on the Task Force for Mission-Critical City Services, helping to reshape and grow the YMCA’s commitment to meeting essential family and individual needs in Rochester.” He added that “[t]hese [seven new] recommendations are designed to improve neighborhood access to health and wellness and educational support that will have a meaningful impact on racial and educational inequities.”

The Y is engaging the assistance of Dr. Daniele Lyman-Torres who will serve as the organization’s first senior vice president of urban services effective Jan, 3. 2022.

According to a statement provided by the Y, Lyman-Torres has more than two decades of experience in advanced strategic leadership and community engagement, and most recently served as a commissioner responsible for all recreation and human services programs and initiatives in the city of Rochester.

Lyman-Torres will oversee the Y’s operations and strategy in her role “within the city limits,” the Y said.

“This is an exciting opportunity to be blazing a new era for the YMCA of Greater Rochester,” said Dr. Lyman-Torres. “The YMCA needs to have a seat at the table when evaluating impactful initiatives within the city. I am proud to have my voice and expertise at that table on behalf of the Y as the first person in this position, and eager to lead that change working alongside the community and a dedicated team of staff serving the City of Rochester.”

Pam Cowan, — Chief Experience Officer, Greater YMCA
(Photo courtesy of P. Cowan)

Interview with Pam Cowan, Chief Experience Officer at the Greater Rochester YMCA

Minority Reporter (MR) discussed the Y’s upcoming new developments in an interview with Pam Cowan, chief experience officer at the Y in December 2021.

MR: What’s going on with the new urban plans for the Y?

Cowan: “When we put our task force together in March, we did it for a very specific reason, and it was for us to bring together leaders in the community that would help the Y really look at the needs of residents within the city limits and the way in which the Y could be a leader and partner in the community to bring services to where they are needed most. So I would say very much so the Y is looking to figure out the best way to serve. And I was incredibly proud of what the task force came together and recommended to our board so that we can start moving forward in a stronger trajectory in the city. I am certainly proud of what we currently offer – we have wonderful facilities both at Maplewood and Southwest and our Center for Equity at Lewis Street. We have a childcare and afterschool program at Metro Center, but we know that there [are] needed services that go outside of the Y and we’re very eager to partner with others to help those in the community and offer those services.”

MR: Carlson MetroCenter Y was the largest local branch is located within the city, and the remaining city branches are not comparable with the Y’s suburban locations by size, equipment and services offered. What are your thoughts?

Cowan: “The equipment that we do have at Maplewood and Southwest is the same equipment that we have in the suburbs, so we do use the same equipment across all facilities. But if you look at the task force recommendations, we go through 1 – 7 and there is a strategy behind how we get to all of this. So the first one is unifying the urban services. We are incredibly proud to bring a new leader on board with Dr. Lyman-Torres– to really look at our current services and really go forward. So, in terms of buildings, certainly there are some buildings in the suburbs that are newer. I think newer tends to give people the impression that it’s different somehow, but new doesn’t always mean anything more than new. If you look at our recommendations, we are committed to determining the feasibility of a new facility within the city limits. That’s just not something that can happen overnight. It is certainly something that is on this roadmap and it will be looked at.”

MR: Do racial dynamics / demographics have anything to do with the current state of affairs (in terms of fewer urban Y branches in Rochester)?

Cowan: “Absolutely not. I mean, you know, where our branches are located is just geography; where people visit is really up to them. The YMCA of Greater Rochester offers passport membership, which means you as a member of the Y can visit any location. And we see through our visitation that members of different branches visit all different kinds of YMCAs. So we have members at Maplewood who use most certainly our Maplewood facility, but also use services in the suburbs. We also see suburban members utilize services in the city branches. So I believe that our passport model which allows members to utilize any of our facilities gives them the freedom of choice to use the facilities and services that meet their needs. All services at all locations are available via passport membership.”

MR: Is transportation available through the Y for city membership holders to visit the suburban locations?– to afford members located within the city limits with meaningful access to the suburban locations.

Cowan: ” I think that all conversation that the task force had was incredibly thoughtful and very much related to the issues that face all residents. And I would say that really what we have done – the work that was done by the task force is just the beginning. They have now put forth recommendations that our corporate board of directors approved unanimously and we are ready to go. So I believe that this is the beginning of new service opportunities and I am very excited to continue the dialogue [with you] as we go into next year and as [Dr. Lyman-Torres] joins our team.”